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There Really Are No Rules

There is a review of Life After the Undead posted here, and eTreasures blogged about the book's famous encounters here.  This blog gives Jerrod's first-hand account of what happened at the convention.  It's a fascinating story!

Recently, I've been doing a lot of reading, both for pleasure and editing.  I've noticed that a lot of the stories I've been reading lately have aspects in them that I was told shouldn't be there.  For example, the use of "to be" verbs.  The "She was doing something" instead of "She did something."  In the first person stuff I've read, I've noticed a lot of things like "I could hear..." instead of "I heard..." 

I've been told on many occasions from different editors that things like this in a story make it passive rather than active.  Now, I'm not saying you can't have these phrases ever, but it's best to use them sparingly.  But as I'm reading and seeing these things crop up over and over (both in unpublished and published stories), I start to wonder:  am I missing a rule?  Have I been told to do it wrong all these years?

My friend (hi, Tamara!) and I were talking about this the other day.  Yes, we are that big of nerds that we talk about grammar and editing as daily conversation.  She told me stories about editing papers from freshman English and how these same types of things would crop up over and over, but we still couldn't figure out why.  Where have we learned them?  Why have they become so ingrained in us that we don't change them?  Why do only a few people (editors) notice them and others don't?

The only conclusion I could come to is that there really aren't any rules when it comes to writing.  Sure, there are basic rules like how a story is structured and that a period ends a sentence, but that doesn't always happen.  People experiment with language in and structure of stories all the time.  Does that make the story any less enjoyable?  Well, maybe.  It depends on how well they do it.  Still, I doubt most readers notice the nuances any way.  Most readers just want to be entertained, not worry about the mechanics behind the story.  That's the publishers/editors job, right?

What it boils down to is what an editor prefers (or has been taught) and what she catches.  I will continue to point out "to be" verbs and ask them to be changed when I edit because that's what I've been told to look for.  Another editor might not.  Writing and editing is subjective, so the reader and editor are going to bring their own experiences to it and look at the story from different perspectives.  So, in reality, there aren't any rules when it comes to writing, but still try to write the best story you possibly can.